• Tomer, age 15, has dreamt about visiting the kotel for as long as he can remember. Confined to a wheelchair since he was a small child, Tomer finally had the opportunity to make his dream come true. In December 2010, LOTEM, Integrated Nature Studies opened a new center in Jerusalem. Less than a month later, Tomer and his classmates made their first trip to the kotel.

    LOTEM, Integrated Nature Studies has been offering educational activities in nature to children and adults with special needs for almost 18 years. Participants include the blind and visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired, physically and intellectually challenged, and emotionally disturbed. They also include women and children in threat of physical and/or emotional abuse. LOTEM  presently serves more than 7,000 children and adults with special needs every year. With the opening of its new Jerusalem center, this number will increase greatly over the coming years.

    The establishment of a Jerusalem branch of LOTEM had been a longtime dream of Amos Ziv, LOTEM’s founder and director. “A branch of LOTEM in Jerusalem, will allow us to expand our activities tremendously,” Amos said. “Not only will we be able to take people with special needs on accessible tours of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, we will also be able to take special-needs participants who live in Jerusalem and surrounding areas out into nature.”

    Amos now dreams about making the Old City of Jerusalem more accessible. His ideas include the purchase of small electric cars which will be able to carry the elderly and physically-disabled from Jaffe Gate to the Jewish quarter and to the Western Wall. Anyone who has walked this route, knows just how difficult it can be. Another project which he is presently developing  is called  “Touching the Kotel”, a program which will help special-needs participants understand the importance of the Western Wall to Jews throughout the ages. Men, women and children  will be able to feel the stones,  leave personal notes among the cracks, and utter the prayers which are their hearts.

    “The opening of the Jerusalem branch will offer LOTEM the opportunity to provide outings in nature for special-needs participants from Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and  the Negev. I have no doubt that the expansion of our services to these areas will be a tremendous success,” said Sorin Hershcu, LOTEM’s chairman of the board, who was seriously wounded during the IDF rescue of hostages in Entebbe in 1976. As a quadripelegic, he became involved with LOTEM in order to help others experience and enjoy the beauty of the Land of Israel.

    Jerusalem lies forever in the heart of the Jewish People. It is with great pride that LOTEM has established a center which will serve special-needs populations in the heart of our great nation. With the help of LOTEM’s partners around the world, LOTEM hopes to expand its activities and make Jerusalem more accessible for people of all ages and abilities.

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